Marine disaster investigation leads to urgent request to improve hurricane forecasting

Mark Powell, vice-president, model development, RMS-HWind, and Michael Kozar, senior modeler, RMS-HWind have noted in an RMS blog that the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a Safety Recommendation Report issued last month, that, unprecedently requested that a fellow federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), together with the US Coast Guard, act immediately to do more in improving maritime safety.

The NTSB wrote: “To the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Develop and implement technology that would allow NWS forecasters to quickly sort through large numbers of tropical cyclone forecast model ensembles, identify clusters of solutions among ensemble members, and allow correlation of those clusters against a set of standard parameters.”

The NTSB Safety Recommendation Report was released as part of its ongoing investigation into the sinking with all hands of US flagged RoRo vehicle and containership El Faro with all hands during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015.

The NTSB’s 21- page report provides “recommendations aimed at getting better weather information to mariners”. The NTSB was motivated to produce the report after noting that “several other major storms had significantly deviated from their forecasts” and that a “new emphasis on improving tropical cyclone forecasting was warranted.”

RMS said that improved understanding of hurricane forecast uncertainty was “a big focus for the RMS-HWind group”. Based at RMS offices in Tallahassee, Florida, the catastrophe modeler has been conducting research and development on this topic and has shared some of the ideas that it has been investigating, including its methods for distilling the huge amount of available forecast data into products that can help its clients understand the most likely forecast scenarios.

RMS said that “what was particularly gratifying to see was confirmation of our approach in the NTSB findings and recommendations, including a NTSB recommendation to the NOAA”.

Mark Powell leads the RMS office in Tallahassee Florida, having previously served for more than 30 years as a scientist at NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division in Miami, where he invented the HWIND technology for high definition hurricane impact mapping. He also served as a developer and Meteorology Team Leader for the Florida Public Hurricane Loss Model.